What has happened in Cuba since Fidel Castro yielded power to his brother Raul? How do Cuban authorities see the changing international arena, particularly the trend to the left in Latin America? And what, almost fifty years after the Cuban Revolution, does the Castro government want in its relations with the United States? To address these questions, The Nation convened a forum of veteran Cuba analysts and a longtime Cuban diplomat, moderated by guest editor Peter Kornbluh.
Since Fidel Castro surprised the world last July by transferring his duties to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, Cuba has experienced nine months of a semi-succession of power. How do you evaluate this unprecedented period?
What’s noteworthy is what has not happened. There have been no demonstrations, no rush of rafters setting sail for Miami, no noticeable difference at all in how the leadership team has governed the island. Fidel must be pleased. The succession machinery he carefully constructed over the past decade is working as planned. His illness lets him watch from the sidelines to see how well his successors manage without him, and they seem to be doing just fine. We all like to think we’re indispensable, and no one has been more indispensable to the Cuban Revolution than Fidel Castro. But the last nine months have shown that people in Miami and Washington who expect the Cuban government to collapse the instant Castro dies are going to be disappointed.
I agree. What we have experienced in Cuba has been a kind of rehearsal, a foreshadowing of what will take place in the event Fidel exits from political life–which could happen for biological reasons. Much to the surprise of those who predicted dire straits for Cuba–exodus, uprising, mass protests against the Revolution, infighting–life goes on as usual.
And the people who started the Revolution in 1953, Fidel and Raul, still prevail.
It was as if you did a major emergency fire drill and everything functioned the way it was supposed to–even if it turns out to be only a drill instead of the real thing. Its relative success can only serve to emphasize the massive failure of the US policy of isolation, which has served only to isolate Washington and deny the United States any kind of influence over the people currently running the country.
All who watch Cuba have had a question in the back of their minds: Is it a one-man show that dissolves when Fidel Castro leaves the scene, or is it a political system that carries on? These nine months have answered that question pretty clearly. This is a stable government, though one cannot minimize the challenges a successor government will eventually face.
Have you seen any indications under Raul Castro’s leadership of a move toward economic reforms or political change?
It all depends on how you define “reforms.” In Cuba there are no reforms taking place, at least not in the sense that they are interpreted abroad by those who would like to witness a return to capitalism.